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BlueAnt Q3 review: Hands-free features galore, call quality not so hot

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The $99 BlueAnt Q3 Bluetooth headset is the follow up to BlueAnt's popular Q2 model. It boasts a host of premium features for hands-free calling, including an array of built-in voice commands, integration with Apple Siri and Google Voice Actions, along with dual microphones for clearer conversations. The headset is also compact and lightweight, plus it can pair with two devices at once such as phones, tablets, or PCs. That said, the Q3 can't match the noise cancellation prowess or greater battery life of the better designed, though larger, Plantronics Voyager Legend.

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6.7

BlueAnt Q3

The Good

Small and light, the <b>BlueAnt Q3</b> is compact and comfortable. The headset also boasts many premium features such as built-in voice commands and a companion mobile app.

The Bad

Though equipped with dual microphones, the BlueAnt Q3’s noise canceling is weak. The Q3’s SMS text-to-speech feature also proved inconsistent.

The Bottom Line

The BlueAnt Q3 packs impressive hands-free calling features, but lackluster call quality makes it hard to recommend.

BlueAnt's compact and sophisticated Q3 headset (pictures)

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Design
Like the Q2, the BlueAnt Q3 is relatively small and light, and it sports a curved shape that's thin and slender. The front of the headset has a meshed surface designed to guard against wind noise, along with a command button and an indicator light. On the side closest to your ear sits a minuscule volume rocker that I found very hard to manipulate with my big fingers, plus a Micro-USB port for charging. That port is something I like to see, as Micro-USB cables are much more convenient and widespread than proprietary connectors.

The BlueAnt Q3's compact size fits easily in the hand. Sarah Tew/CNET

Placed on the Q3's inside edge is the headset's tiny power switch, which is a little difficult to flip unless you remove the device from your ear. To ensure good call quality, the headset features two microphones -- one at the tip and one on the front.

Also included in the box are four rubbery eartips, two with stabilizers and two without (one set small and one set large). You can also attach an earloop to the Q3 for more stability. In my experience I found the Q3 a little tricky to insert into my ear, but once properly angled and attached the device held fast. The soft eartips are also easy to slip onto the headset and create a tight acoustic seal.

On the inside edge of the BlueAnt Q3 sits its power switch. Sarah Tew/CNET

Features and performance
The BlueAnt Q3 comes brimming with lots of bells and whistles to make hands-free calling easier. Like many high-end Bluetooth headsets, the Q3 features numerous voice commands built right in. For example, when you press the command button, the gadget will ask you to "Say a command." If you then ask, "What can I say?" the Q3 will list all possible options. These include "Check battery" for current power level, "Pair" to kick the device into pairing mode, and "Am I connected" will confirm your link status and begin the Bluetooth connection process if necessary.

Additionally, pressing the command button once will accept incoming calls while hitting it twice rejects it. If you're already chatting with someone and receive an incoming call, pressing the button ends the current line and answers the new call. Double clicking the key under the same circumstances performs the opposite, rejecting the new call while preserving the ongoing one. Another neat trick is the option to hold one call while answering another, then merging the two if you choose. Keep in mind though, that your wireless network must support call conferencing for this feature to succeed.

A perforated surface acts to block wind noise. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Q3 also connects to free BlueAnt Android and iOS apps. It lets you activate the headset's ability to read text messages out loud as your phone receives them, plus have a reference to the various voice commands the device accepts. BlueAnt also says the Q3 is compatible with Siri and Google Voice Actions. I have to say that, in practice, I had a mixed experience with both features.

Toggle settings and see voice command options in the companion app. Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

When paired to my HTC One (unlocked) test phone running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, I successfully used the Q3 to launch Google searches with my voice via the Google Now app. Still, when I spoke the command "Phone commands" to kick-start Google Now (or double tapping the command button), I heard the Q3's robotic voice announce that, "This feature is not supported on the connected phone." The same malfunction occurred when the headset was paired with an LG Nexus 4 running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Additionally, the Q3 would not read text messages out loud automatically when linked to the HTC One, even when I double-checked that the setting was enabled within the mobile application. The Q3 did manage to read incoming texts to when connected to the Nexus 4.

Sound quality of test calls was decent but not stellar. On bustling New York City streets, wind didn't affect audio negatively but callers reported that they heard plenty of distracting ambient noise such as the screeching of car brakes, construction din, and babble from nearby conversations. In contrast, calls made with the Plantronics Voyager Legend at the same location and time were clearer with less background sounds -- apparently having a third mic does help.

BlueAnt rates the Q3 to provide a talk time of five hours, which is in line with my anecdotal experience during my test period. On the flipside, the Voyager Legend offers slightly more longevity, with a rated talk time of seven hours.

Conclusion
I had high hopes for the BlueAnt Q3 since it's billed as a premium headset by its manufacturer, but $100 is a lot to pay for a smartphone accessory. It's hard to swallow the device's high price, especially when other Bluetooth headsets deliver better performance for the same amount of cash. That's why I recommend buying the $99 Plantronics Voyager Legend over the Q3. While the Legend is bigger, it offers superior call quality, longer battery life, and controls that are easier to manipulate. Of course, if portability is what you desire above all else, then the BlueAnt Q3 is worth a look.

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6.7

BlueAnt Q3

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 5